Richard Rohr on Dispatching the Loyal Soldier

Father Richard Rohr“The voice of our ‘loyal soldier’ gets us through the first half of life safely, teaching us to look both ways before we cross the street, to have enough impulse control to avoid addictions and compulsive emotions, to learn the sacred ‘no’ to ourselves that gives us dignity, identity, direction, significance and boundaries. We must learn these lessons to get off to a good start. It is far easier to begin life with a conservative worldview and a respect for traditions. It gives you an initial sense of place, and is much more effective in the long run, even if it just gives you a goad to kick against (Acts 26)…Without a loyal soldier protecting us up to age 30, the world’s prisons and psych wards would be even more overcrowded than they are – testosterone addiction, ego, promiscuity, and vanity would win out in most of our lives. Without our loyal soldier, we’d all be aimless and shapeless with no home base and no sustained relationships, because there would be no ‘me’ at home to have a relationship with. Lots of levers, but no place to stand.

Paradoxically, your loyal solider gives you so much security and validation, that you may confuse his voice with the very voice of God. If this inner and critical voice has kept you safe for many years, as your inner voice of authority, you may end up not being able to hear the real voice of God. The loyal solider is the voice of all your early authority figures. His or her ability to offer shame, guilt, warnings, boundaries, and self-doubt is the gift that never stops giving…but it is not the still, small voice of God (1 Kings 19) that *gives* us our power, instead of always *taking* our power. The loyal soldier cannot get you to the second half of life. He does not even understand it – he’s not been there. He can help you get through hell with the early decisions that demand black and white thinking, but then you have to say goodbye when you move into the subtlety of mid-life and later life…

In the first half of life, we fight the devil, and have the illusion and inflation of winning now and then. In the second half of life, we always lose, because we are invariably fighting God. The first battles solidify the ego and create a stalwart, loyal solider. The second battles defeat the ego, because God always wins. No wonder so few want to let go of their loyal solider! No wonder so few have the faith to grow up! The ego hates losing – even to God.

The loyal soldier is largely the same thing that Freud was describing with his concept of the superego, which he said usually substitutes for any real, adult formation of conscience. The superego feels like God, because people have had nothing else to guide them. Such a bogus conscience is a terrible substitute for authentic morality! What reveals its bogus character its major resistance to change and growth. And its substituting of small, low-cost moral issues, for the real ones that ask us to change, instead of always trying to change other people. Jesus called it ‘straining out gnats, while swallowing camels’ (Matthew 23:24).”

–Fr. Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life

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Ryan Thomas Neace is a counselor, professor, husband, and daddy. Please contact him for counseling via skype or in-person at

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